East Europe Death Toll Climbs as Siberian Cold Grips Region

East European Death Toll Climbs as Freeze Grips Region
A frozen park near of Mikhaylovskiy Cathedral in Kiev, Ukraine, on Feb. 2, 2012. Photographer: Sergey Dolzhenko/EPA

Eastern Europe’s death toll climbed to about 250 as the region grapples with a Siberian freeze, heavy snowfall and gale-force winds that disrupted traffic, boosted energy use to record levels and sealed off towns.

The cold killed 101 people in Ukraine, where 1,248 people were hospitalized with frostbite, the Emergency Ministry said today. In Russia, at least 60 have frozen to death in 50 provinces this month, the Health Ministry said, while Polish police reported eight cold-related deaths yesterday, bringing the toll to 43 since Jan. 24.

The region has been battling temperatures as low as minus 50 Celsius (minus 58 Fahrenheit) in parts of Kazakhstan, the lowest on record, and minus 30.2 degrees in the Russian city of Smolensk, 392 kilometers (244 miles) west of Moscow. In Serbia, 16 towns have declared emergency after being under snow since Jan. 10, said Goran Nikolic, head of the emergency situations division at the Interior Ministry.

“It’s difficult or even impossible to ship food and medical supplies to households in remote mountainous villages,” Nikolic said in a phone interview today.

The coldest weather in 75 years in Azerbaijan closed roads and interrupted the operation of the main airport in the capital, Baku. Forecasts show the cold snap persisting for days.

Roads, Rivers

Snow closed 12 national roads in Romania, where 24 people have lost their lives because of the cold. The country issued a warning for blizzards and snowfall until Feb. 5. About 370 schools were closed today in 29 counties and 60 trains were canceled, the government said. Authorities restricted traffic on the Danube river as a Dutch ship carrying wheat was ice-bound.

In the Czech Republic, where temperatures fell to minus 38.2 degrees, 105 measuring stations of the Czech Hydrometeorological Institute last night reported the lowest-ever temperatures for the date, according to spokesman Petr Dvorak.

Slovenia’s southwestern region, nestled between the Alps and the Adriatic Sea, was battered by gale-force winds in the past days and expects stronger winds today with speeds reaching as much as 180 kilometers per hour (112 miles per hour), Andrej Velkavrh, a meteorologist at the environmental agency in Ljubljana, the capital, said by the phone.

Energy Consumption

The cold snap boosted energy consumption across the region. Russian electricity consumption surged to an all-time record for a second consecutive day yesterday, OAO System Operator said today on its website. Power use reached 157,099 megawatts as of 10 a.m. on Feb. 2 in Moscow with outside temperature at minus 23.4 Celsius, the Russian power-network administrator said.

Polish gas demand hit a record-high 70.3 million cubic meters yesterday, Malgorzata Polkowska, a spokeswoman at Gaz-System SA, Poland’s state-owned natural-gas pipeline operator said by phone today. Estonia’s electricity consumption rose to a two-year high of 1545 megawatts today, a tad below the all-time high of 1,587 megawatts recorded in January 2010, according to grid operator Elering website. Gas consumption in Serbia jumped to a record 16 million cubic meters, prompting the government to consider closing schools and reducing industrial production to save energy.

Gas Supplies

European customers are experiencing declines in gas supplies because Russia has cut shipments, RIA Novosti said, citing Ukraine’s Energy and Coal Minister Yuriy Boyko. Transit across Ukraine to the European Union is 415 million cubic meters of gas a day, compared with a maximum level of 490 million cubic meters, the news service said.

Europe gets about 25 percent of its gas from Russia and as much as 80 percent crosses Ukraine. OAO Gazprom is shipping the “maximum possible” and quadrupled off-take from underground storage in Europe during the current cold snap, Alexander Medvedev, deputy chief executive officer of the Russian gas exporter, said yesterday in a statement. Medvedev said Ukraine is taking more gas than allowed by its contracts.

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